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More rural support coming

Countryside communities across the UK have been promised wholesale improvements as rural development plans roll out

All four UK governments have now pledged increased support for rural communities following separate announcements in recent weeks.
In England — which was granted around £3billion for its Rural Development Programme (RDP) in February — chancellor George Osborne and environment secretary Elizabeth Truss jointly authored the paper “Towards a one nation economy: A 10-point plan for boosting rural productivity in rural areas”.

The document, published last month, includes promises of £15billion for the Government’s Road Investment Strategy and £38billion for its rail programme to improve transport connections.

It also says that £129million will be made available for further improvements to broadband coverage, and mobile phone coverage will be increased. There will also be fairer funding for rural schools and an increase in the number of rural apprenticeships.

The paper also says that the Government will create more housing, increase affordable childcare in rural areas and make a commitment to encourage “further proposals from local areas for devolution of powers in return for strong and accountable local governance”.

“Shopping list”

Countryside Alliance executive chairman Sir Barney White-Spunner welcomed the “shopping list” contained in the report.
“It features several of our campaigning priorities, from broadband coverage to transport and affordable housing,” he said.
“It has long been our concern that rural life is the poor relation when it comes to government spending, and recognition that a growing rural population is crying out for infrastructure can only be a good thing.
“Taking action as the chancellor suggests has the potential to see the rural economy contribute to GB plc as it has always wanted to, and we look forward to helping.”

Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

Meanwhile, the Northern Irish Assembly saw £623million of EU funds unlocked for its RDP two weeks ago. The plan will focus on improving farming and agri-food businesses, protecting the environment and supporting rural development projects.
Agriculture minister Michelle O’Neill said: “I’m confident that every single penny allocated as part of this programme will go towards creating rural jobs, developing our rural infrastructure and investing in the future sustainability of the farming industry.”

In the same week, Scotland’s rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead announced that the Scottish Government had pledged to deliver on its Scottish Rural Parliament Action Plan priorities with a £200,000 grant to Stramash Outdoor Nurseries, an initiative that uses the outdoors to enrich children’s development.
The action plan was published in June, following Scotland’s own £1.3billion RDP approval in May.

Wales’s £808million RDP was also approved in May. Its focus is on better management of natural resources and encouraging climate-adaptation practices.